Team Management

How to Write Business Emails That Always Get Replies, According to Research

Jeff Haden Inc. columnist and small business management expert 
The Best Way to Start and End Work Emails _ 13 Email Greetings + Sign-offs

Richard Branson sent me an email around this time last year. I had published an article about the time he gave me half his sandwich—and more importantly, the power of kindness and courtesy—and he thanked me for the kind words.

Branson started the email with “Hi.” He closed it with “Thanks.”

And whether intentional or not, he had done what research says is the best way to start and end an email.

Like most entrepreneurs, whenever you send a business email you hope for a response. Luckily, it’s not all up to chance.

To up your odds of getting that reply, let’s see what research says is the best way to start, and close, your emails.

The best way to start your work emails

An analysis of over 300,000 email threads conducted by Boomerang shows that some email greetings perform better in terms of response rate than others (meaning recipients actually responded to the initial email).

Here are the top five, ranked in order of response rate:   

GreetingResponse rate

(The average response rate for all emails in their data set was 47.5 percent.)

“Hey” might sound too casual. But, possibly to the chagrin of your third-grade teacher, “Hey” is more effective than “Dear.”

And it sparks a better tone. “Dear” sounds more like a spam email opening than the start of a message between potential employees, customers, suppliers, or whoever else you want involved with your business.

Research agrees: Formality tends to be higher when the people involved dislike each other or have less in common, even on the broadest of levels—neither of which is likely to make the odds of a response more favorable.

With that in mind, the next time you start an email:

– Always include some form of greeting.

Any greeting at all performed better than the overall response rate for all emails. (Once you’ve started an email thread, it’s okay to skip the greeting. But many people don’t. And that’s okay too.)

– Most of the time, use “Hi,” “Hey,” or “Hello.”

Unless your email is—for good reason—extremely formal in nature, then “Dear” is appropriate. But if your email is from one individual (you) to another, start your email more casually.

The goal is to be professional, but also friendly and courteous. After all, we like to do business with people we like.

Make sure you establish that kind of rapport right away.

The best way to end your work emails

According to that same analysis of over 350,000 email threads, here are the most common ways to close an email, ranked in order of popularity:

1. Thanks
2. Regards
3. Cheers
4. Best regards
5. Thanks in advance
6. Thank you
7. Best
8. Kind regards

Popularity is one thing, though. What about response rate?

Here’s how those same closings rank in terms of how frequently recipients respond:

Sign-offResponse rate
Thanks in advance65.7%
Thank you57.9%
Kind regards53.9%
Best regards52.9%

The clear winner is a version of “thanks.” (Although “thanks in advance” sounds a little presumptuous to me—and is a sign-off I’ve never used—it clearly works.)

Even so, maybe you’re a fan of “Best.” Maybe you see “Best” as your trademark sign-off. Since the difference between “Thanks” and “Best” is only a little over 10 percent, what’s the big deal?

Where response rate is concerned, 10 percent is a major deal. Whether you’re seeking a connection, asking for an introduction, looking for a favor, getting one out of ten more people to respond is an advantage you shouldn’t ignore.

And don’t worry that “thanks” sounds too informal. Professionalism matters where business communication is concerned, but establishing rapport is also important. Communication in general has become much more informal (I’d say even for traditionally formal industries, like law firms). 

In fact, coming across as too formal can work against you. I’ve sent emails that the recipients later told me they almost didn’t respond to because the language sounded too formulaic and professional.

After all, people do business with real people—so use real language instead of something you would never say in real life.

So, the next time you wrap up an email:

– Always include a closing. 

Any closing performs better than the overall response rate for all emails. 

– Consider the context. 

“Thanks in advance” is the most effective closing but should be used wisely, like when your request is simple, and the person has clear next steps.

– Choose a sign-off that makes sense.

“Thanks” clearly works. But “thanks” doesn’t make sense if you’re making an introduction. Or if you’re passing on information I can act upon. Or if you’re giving me a heads-up. In those cases, “Best” or “Regards” is better. Make sure your closing is appropriate not only to the request, but also to the person you’re talking to.

As in most things, where effective communication is concerned, context—and knowing your audience—is everything.

Even if you’re Richard Branson.

Jeff Haden
Jeff Haden Jeff Haden is a writer, speaker, small business management expert, and Inc.’s most popular columnist. He's the author of The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win.
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